PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays will open their sixth season at Charlotte Sports Park on Friday with a special tribute to active and retired servicemen and women prior to the start of the team's 1:05 p.m. ET contest against the Orioles.

The U.S. Special Operations Command Parachute Team will deliver the American flag and game ball when they drop into Charlotte Sports Park from an altitude of 12,500 feet, free falling approximately two miles and reaching speeds in excess of 120 mph while wearing smoke canisters on their feet to make them visible to fans below.

During their free fall, the members of the team will maneuver to create formations in the sky. Once they approach an altitude of 4,000 feet, they will break their formation and glide in different directions, opening their parachutes approximately 2,500 feet above ground. Once open, the members will steer their parachutes and land one behind the other with precision in the landing area inside the ballpark.

The Rays have partnered with Charlotte County's Veteran Services Division to invite 300 of the area's veterans as special guests for the game. A special military discount will also be offered for the opener. Active or retired personnel showing a military ID can purchase up to four half-price general admission seats at the box office on the day of the game.

Seeking job, Bedard enjoys vibe of Rays camp

Outlook: Bedard piles on strikeouts despite walk rate

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Erik Bedard is in Rays camp after signing a Minor League deal with an invitation to Major League camp just prior to the start of Spring Training.

Bedard, 34, spent last season with the Astros, going 4-12 with a 4.59 ERA. The veteran left-hander made 26 appearances as a starter, which marked his highest season total since making 28 starts in 2007 with the Orioles. He attributed the Rays' success as a driving factor for signing with the team.

"They're a winning organization," Bedard said. "And they've been consistent the last five or six years. And everybody wants to be a part of that. I've always heard good things from other players that it's fun to be here. And it's relaxed. Just play ball."

Thus far Bedard has found the atmosphere to be just as he imagined.

"Everybody's having a lot of fun, but we're doing the work at the same time," Bedard said. "It's always fun to be around that."

Bedard sounded like the veteran he is when asked about what he's trying to accomplish at this point of camp.

"Right now I'm just trying to throw strikes, get your arm in shape for games, and go from there," Bedard said. "It's a process, you don't try and make the team in BP, you just gradually work to get your arm strong.

"...Throwing strikes, that's the main thing. Not everything is sharp right now, but it'll get there and just get better."

Rays manager Joe Maddon has always been a Bedard fan.

"Loved him," Maddon said. "... He was able to throw something other than fastball in a fastball count for a strike. He was uncanny with that and that's why I thought he really ruled when he was with Baltimore."

Bedard is in contention for the No. 5 spot in the rotation since Jeremy Hellickson is out for now while rehabbing after elbow surgery.

"When you look at his numbers last year -- his won-loss record wasn't the greatest -- but, again, we don't look at that," Maddon said. "He did a lot of things well last year and pitched better than those numbers indicated. ... The stuff we looked at was a lot better. You'd like to think putting him in front of his defense is going to make that even better."

Maddon pointed out that Bedard seems healthy and his stuff is "still really good."

"He gets out both righties and lefties," Maddon said. "We had some ideas for him to think about when we did our work on him. So we'll see how he goes out there and plays. But him being well and getting an opportunity here, he could be better than a .500 pitcher."

In addition to liking Bedard on the mound, Maddon noted that he has taken a shine to his personality.

"I never knew, the guy is gregarious," Maddon said. "He's affable. He talks. He's funny. And you never got that from watching from a distance. I kind of like his personality. I think he fits in well here."

Given the fact his manager called him "gregarious," Bedard was asked what he would call the Rays manager, a question prompted a chuckle.

"I'll have to think about that one," Bedard said. "That was not a layup question."

Maddon not fan of new rule on collisions

Joe Maddon said there's "some ambiguities" about the new rule.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Rays manager Joe Maddon is not in agreement with legislating collisions at home plate.

Major League Baseball announced on Monday the addition of Rule 7.13 regarding home-plate collisions, as per a negotiation between MLB and the MLB Players Association. The Rays manager already had a heads-up about the new rules after meeting with MLB officials Sunday afternoon and he offered his opinion Monday just prior to MLB's official release.

"It's a really tough play to legislate outside [of a determination being made that] the runner could have avoided [a collision] but chose not to," Maddon said. "But at the same time, a good catcher who has the ball in time could really hurt a baserunner."

Maddon noted "it's all about protecting the catcher," but in doing so, others, like the baserunner, are being put at risk.

Maddon said the Rays have a way they plan to teach their catchers to comply with the rules.

"Quite frankly, we've always given a lot of the plate," Maddon said. "The only time you don't give a lot of the plate is when the throw takes you into a bad spot. And you just have to try and catch the ball. That's a part of it also.

"So the throw puts the catcher in an awkward receiving spot, suboptimal regarding where you would like to be, then all of a sudden he has to be there. And now what does the runner do?"

Maddon said he has made the suggestion that a video needs to be made to show players what is legal and what is not.

"I still think there's some ambiguities about it that I think we need to learn better," Maddon said. "I think the in-season game is going to teach us more. I think with all these new rules, whether it's instant replay or the positioning of the catcher, I think it's got to be a very fluid, almost living kind of organism, when it comes to rule changing.

"So a lot of flexibility, not tabling, not revisiting, addressing almost immediately when you know something about this isn't right. [Like] obviously, something about this isn't right. ... We've gotta do something right now. Which is going to play havoc with players' heads, I think. And that's the part I really don't like."

Zobrist encouraged, but not rushing sore back

Ben Zobrist describes his tight back

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist, who is nursing a sore lower back, hit in the batting cage Monday.

"Felt good," said Zobrist, who has not worked out with the team yet due to lower back pain incurred while lifting weights. "It was fine. It's more a case of being comfortable bending over than it is being comfortable twisting.

" ... I did other exercises and things in the training room. Everything was great -- had a good stretch. Tomorrow, I think the idea is maybe take some ground balls -- swing, throw, do all that stuff. But I don't think they're going to let me go out tomorrow, yet, with the whole team."

Zobrist said he is pain free at this point, though he can feel some tightness if he's in the car for a long period and when he wakes up in the morning, though he does not feel anything when he's standing.

"They don't want me to feel that extra tightness," Zobrist said. "When that goes away, then they'll probably let me go out there with everybody."

Zobrist is encouraged by his progress.

"I'd like to be out there right now, but we've got to take it slow because it's Spring Training," he said. "If it was in the middle of the season, maybe we'd try and rush things. But there's no reason to rush right now. ... So we'll see after tomorrow what they say. But I think it's just a matter of wanting to take one step at a time."

Worth noting

• MLB Network will air more than 200 Spring Training games starting Feb. 26, including five Rays games that will be available on MLB Network in the Rays' home TV market. Here is a look at the schedule:

March 7: Rays at Blue Jays, 1 p.m. ET (live).

March 10: Rays at Yankees, midnight, and Rays at Red Sox, 1 p.m. (live).

March 20: Rays at Orioles, 7 a.m.

March 23: Rays at Red Sox, 8 p.m.